Friday, 7 May 2021

Priority groups

If you live in New Zealand and need a vaccine for travel, the process doesn't look simple unless you're on the government's radar as a person of national significance

There are two further categories we are still looking at: one for people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds; and a national significance category, which could include groups who need a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas.

There will be plenty of folks who will need to travel for business reasons and won't be able to access vaccines easily. The framing has generally been around the unfairness of queue-jumping, but where there's no community transmission in New Zealand, it perhaps matters less if an at-risk person in a remote spot is vaccinated in June or in September. 

There's now an option to crowdfund support for Covax: the facility that buys vaccines for poor countries. Give them $10, they'll get a vaccine to someone in a country that can't afford them otherwise. You can go and do it right now. Click the link. I just did. $50 plus $3.90 to cover credit card and transaction fees, and I've just bought vaccines for 5 people. But I cannot get a vaccine in my own country despite very much wanting one so that I'd be vaccinated in case I needed to travel in a hurry.

I wonder whether we could set an additional channel for priority access here. If someone makes a donation to Covax that would see 5 more people abroad vaccinated, could they get a vaccine that would enable them to travel? Is 5 too few? Is there a number that would do it?

If you need to travel for compassionate reasons, you might need to be travelling in a hurry. That requires being vaccinated long enough ahead of travel for the vaccine to be effective. That means getting vaccinated before you've got a compassionate case to plead to MBIE. 

Business travel can more typically be planned in advance, but unless you're an America's Cup sailboat or involved in films or an Olympic athlete or whatever is currently exciting one of the Ministers of MBIE, good freaking luck. You're not going to be of national significance, because you do not have pull. 

The shovels weren't shovel-ready

There's opportunity here.
Less than half of the Government’s ‘’shovel-ready’’ infrastructure projects have begun by its first self-imposed deadline, with just 44 per cent of the 150 projects under construction by the end of February.
These things were set up as stimulus when everyone was worried about double-digit unemployment. Unemployment rates instead are below 5%. The projects never received any adequate CBA; the Infrastructure Commission just threw together a list of things that they might be able to get out the door in a hurry.

I was kinda sceptical that these things could wind up being delivered in a hurry; here's what I'd written on them a year ago

Why not just pause to reconsider all the ones that haven't started yet? Maybe they make sense, or maybe the money is better spent elsewhere. The government's announced a public sector pay freeze. Maybe they wouldn't have to do that if they could step back and reconsider the couple of billion dollars that they're here spending. 

The urgency behind the projects is gone. The government is short of funds. Why not take a minute to figure out whether the money could be better spent?

Hard to rouse a moral panic about coffee

Swap "coffee" and "caffeine" in this piece for "vaping" and "nicotine", and imagine the outraged calls for tougher regulation.

A nationwide survey of hundreds of New Zealand tertiary students found almost every single one of them consume some level of caffeine daily, with a quarter experiencing "distressing" side effects.

But researchers found most of those students who suffered negative effects associated with caffeine such as a fast heartbeat, upset stomach or an inability to sleep had no plans to stop consuming caffeine any time soon.

The results of the Massey University study were published in the journal Nutrients this week and measured the caffeine intake of more than 300 university students.

Chocolate, coffee, tea and energy drinks contributed most to the total caffeine intake of 99 percent of students, with the median intake measured at 146.7mg a day.

But in some cases, maximum intakes of up to 1988.14mg a day were recorded - almost five times what experts consider the "safe" level of intake: 400mg a day.

One third (34.4 per cent) of caffeine consumers ingested caffeine above the adverse effect level and 14.3 percent regularly consumed more than the safe limit, according to researchers.
If it were vaping and nicotine, we'd have the Asthma Foundation saying these addicts need to be protected against Big Caffeine. But we all know that would be crazy. Vaping is newer though and can be pitched as scary, so it's easier to turn these kinds of things into scare stories.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Afternoon roundup

An overdue closing of the browser tabs brings these worthies:

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Special Purpose Authorities

This week's column with the Dom Post takes a look back to prior local government reform, given that the government's launched a new local government inquiry. 

In 1988, the Committee on Local Government released a discussion document, Reform of Local and Regional Government. It paved the way toward council amalgamations and disestablishing the special purpose authorities that once enabled infrastructure delivery.

A snippet:

The list of authorities to be reviewed was not small. At the time, New Zealand had 27 city councils, 89 borough councils, 80 county councils, a town council and 20 district councils. It also had 121 community councils, 15 district community councils, an Auckland regional authority, two regional councils and 20 united councils.

It was a lot of local councils for what was then a much smaller country.

But the review also encompassed some 453 Special Purpose Authorities. Things that now fall under general council remit were then carved out into special purpose vehicles.

Perhaps the most notable of the older Special Purpose Authorities is the one that built the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

If you today proposed "Let's set a special purpose body that can take its own debt to market and pay it off via user-fees over a long time horizon", some folks would think you were proposing some kind of 1980s neoliberalism. But it was the reforms of the 1980s that got rid of these. The Auckland Harbour Bridge was constructed under one of these setups in the 1950s. 

I love this picture of one of the bond ads from the 50s. Forty year bonds. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Complex needs

Closed borders ended tourism and left motel rooms empty. The government's booked out a fair few of those spaces as emergency social housing. But the whole thing seems a mess. Vulnerable people fleeing bad family situations are placed near rather dangerous types who also use social housing. 

Jane Patterson at RNZ has been tallying it up.

Demand just keeps escalating, under a system where motels and other providers get paid on a weekly basis, or sometimes slightly longer, to house people in urgent need of somewhere to stay.

Hair-raising stories continue to roll in to RNZ about what life is like for some tenants and moteliers, who're recounting stories of constant crime and gang harassment being confronted with knives and in one case a room burnt to the ground.

One of the government's own ministers describes some living conditions as "inhumane" and the current system "inefficient and unacceptable".

It is costing $1 million a day for emergency and transitional housing; the vast bulk - $900,000 - is spent on the former, prompting calls for much better oversight of some places described as dangerous and crime ridden. There are no contracts between the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and those supplying the rooms, nor specific obligations tagged to the millions being paid out.

Some moteliers are also speaking out, saying they're being demonised while trying to do right by their guests; dealing with crime, intimidation and violence all too regularly - driving some out of business altogether.

Read the whole thing.  

It's experiences like these that will drive local opposition to social housing being built nearby. Having gang affiliates next door in a motel room is bad enough, but at least the motel should hopefully be a temporary situation. 

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the "majority of MSD clients who use emergency housing are good people who are looking for a roof over their heads while we help them find somewhere permanent".

However, some people "have high and complex needs and can act out in ways which causes damage to motels", she says.

When this happens, it is paid out through an emergency grant, and is then "recovered from the person who caused the damage".

"I know this creates a debt to the people who have caused the damage, but it's important that if someone damages property they are held to account for their actions," Sepuloni says.


One Canterbury motelier - who has since left the business - made six rooms available during last year's lockdown for short term, urgent housing administered by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

That was to give shelter to the homeless, the rough sleepers, those at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

"I had to have two rooms empty, I couldn't open them to the general public because you can't put members of the general public next to these people screaming and shouting and threatening each other with knives and stuff", he told RNZ.

Furniture and rooms were trashed, he says, and in one instance burned down. The tenant had "stolen two e-scooters and he was trying to patch them together to make one good one and he got the wiring wrong and the battery exploded - that's why the fire destroyed the room", he says.

"Damages wise, I would say, I'd have to go back and look at all the invoicing but I'd say we're up to about $30,000. And that was for just for 10 months. That's not for a whole year."

Carpets and coffee tables were ruined with cigarette burns, with one man falling asleep in the bed and he "must have had a cigarette in an outstretched arm, which then set fire to the couch" which was destroyed.

Frightening confrontations, too, while doing a routine room inspection; a man "obviously high on drugs, I knocked on his door and he just opened a door and lunged at me with a carving knife, you know, he didn't know what he was doing", says the former owner.

He has given up on the motel after the constant stress and physical danger.

"I walked away from it, with the family, because basically the family's mental health was suffering as well."

I wonder whether there would be less opposition to nearby social housing if neighbours had a mechanism for voting out the current tenant if they wound up with a violent aggressive neighbour rather than a single mum hiding out with her kid. I also wonder whether the risk of being voted out would change tenant behaviour. 

I also wonder why motel rooms are considered appropriate housing for people with a habit of lunging at others with knives; we do have a few secure facilities for those kinds of complex needs as they await trial for lunging at others with knives. I know Corrections now views jail as a very last-resort option; they might wish to have non-jail secure alternatives to motels. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Regional naming rights

Appellation d'origine contrôlée rules make some kind of sense when they prevent what might otherwise amount to false advertising because the geographic name is so intertwined with the product. 

It does seem to be getting a bit out of hand.

The European Commission recently granted exclusive use of the term 'halloumi' within Europe to cheesemakers from Cyprus, using the intellectual property rights system called "geographical indications".

The move to register halloumi follows behind the recent registrations of cheeses like havarti.


In its Free Trade Agreement negotations with New Zealand, the EU is looking protect 2200 of its food and beverage GI's, including well known cheeses such as feta, gruyere and gorgonzola.

What other name are you supposed to give those cheese styles? Will somebody wind up deciding that nobody can use the word cheddar unless the cheese comes from a small village in Somerset

I suppose Kiwi cheesemakers could start just adding NZ to all the names, so we'd have halloumiNZ, havartiNZ, fetaNZ, and gruyeNZ. 

Maybe we could claim gorgoNZola as our own unless the Italians start referring to their own product as Chinese Gooseberry rather than Kiwifruit? It seems a lot more likely that someone would mistake something labelled Kiwifruit as being from NZ than that someone would mistake a local feta as really being from wherever the Europeans think feta is from. I have no clue where any of those cheeses are meant to be from, and I bet you don't either unless you google it. 

What a ridiculous system. 

"You can't call yourselves hip-hop artists unless you were born and trained in the hip-hop region of America. You have to call yourself something else. Oh, and K-pop has to change its name too because everyone knows pop music only comes from the 3 square block pop region of Los Angeles and it could be confusing to complete fricking idiots. But whatever they change their name to, nobody else in the world can ever use that name either. Only artists from Gangnam. We're going to have infinite numbers of names for each thing in the world, and it will be great."

I hate that accepting this nonsense seems required if NZ wants to be able to export to Europe.